KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Because manager Buck Showalter was in Texas on Saturday to witness his daughter’s graduation from law school, bench coach John Russell took over the team for a day. Russell said he spoke with Showalter at length Friday night about the lineup and game plan, and he then talked to him on the phone Saturday afternoon after Showalter’s plane landed in Texas.
“It’s not a whole lot different of a day for me, just preparing and making sure everything is ready,” said Russell, who has filled in for Showalter when he has been ejected or briefly suspended. “The only difference is I’m running the game tonight. But fortunately for us Chris [Tillman] threw a complete game [Friday night], so our bullpen’s fresh. So we’ll just see what the night brings.”
It’s not unchartered for territory Russell, who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2008 to 2010. But Saturday’s game had a little added significance for the 53-year-old since his father, Jack, lives in Kansas City and attended the game.
“We had breakfast [Saturday] morning, and he said, ‘You are managing today? [I said], ‘I guess you could call it that, I’m filling in,’” Russell said. “He said, ‘Have fun and I’ll be up in the stands enjoying myself.’ But it is, any time my dad can get around [to a game], it’s a special time for me.”
Leading the East at the quarter pole
Friday’s game was the Orioles 40th this season — essentially marking the quarter point of the 162-game season. And despite inconsistencies with their offense and defense, and injuries to some key players, the Orioles were 22-18 and leading the American League East.
“I wouldn’t say we’re content, I would say we are happy and pleased with the way things have gone so far,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who missed two weeks with a strained oblique. “I think we’ve had some series where we’ve looked really good and have had some series where we looked really bad. We’re still not firing on all cylinders, which is kind of scary.”
Said reliever Darren O’Day: “You can’t discount what we’ve done, and we’ve played well, and we are at the top of the division, but I don’t think anyone in here is happy with what we’ve done 100 percent so far.”
The sense in the clubhouse is that the Orioles should be better as the season progresses — and they are already on pace for 88 wins. At the start of the season, would they have signed up for a 22-18 record after their first 40 games?
“At the beginning of the season, no. But right now we’ll take it, because we have a lot of room to get better and we know that,” Tillman said. “It sounds cliche, but I think our best baseball is yet to come this season. I really do.”
Around the horn
Infielder Jonathan Schoop was back in Saturday’s lineup after sitting out two days partially because of a swollen right index finger that he injured while catching a ball Wednesday. … Director of baseball development Brian Graham joined the team as Russell’s bench coach Saturday and will coach third base Tuesday in Pittsburgh to fill in for Bobby Dickerson, who will be attending his daughter’s high school graduation. Graham will coach third base Monday during Low-A Delmarva’s game in West Virginia to get used to coaching a base again. The longtime baseball man was a major league coach in 1998-99 with the Cleveland Indians and in 2000 with the Orioles. He also spent much of the final part of the 2010 season as an extra coach in Baltimore. … Russell said Johan Santana’s extended spring training outing Friday lasted 2 1/3 innings. The veteran left-hander was “shaky early but settled in” and eventually hit 88 mph with his fastball. … Tillman’s shutout Friday was the first for the Orioles against the Kansas City Royals since Scott Erickson did it on April 28, 2002. … O’Day, his wife, Elizabeth, and OriolesREACH are hosting a “USO Barbecue for the Troops” event before the May 25 game at Camden Yards. As part of the ticket package, fans can buy left-field lower box seats for the game against the Indians and participate in a noon, pregame barbecue/meet-and-greet with Orioles players. Net proceeds go to USO programs to help military personnel and their families. Tickets can be purchased at Orioles.com/community.